Tusayan resident Justin Lee Richardson went into the woods about five miles behind Moqui Lodge south of the Grand Canyon on June 29, 2001. He was 13.
His lived with his father; his mother lived in Flagstaff.
There was supposed to be a party with meth to score out in the woods that night. He went with three men, all between 18 and 21.
Some time after that, Richardson disappeared, and he hasn’t been seen or heard from since.
“There’s been no sightings, no calls, nothing to indicate that he’s living somewhere else right now,” said Joe Sumner, volunteer for the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office cold case unit. “There’s no evidence he’s still alive.”
The cold case unit is currently trying to solve nearly 40 cases in the county like Richardson’s. Sumner, who retired from the National Park Service in 2007 as a criminal investigator, came onto the cold case unit in 2008.
Richardson had run away from home before, and investigators believed at the time it was possible he had hitched a ride out of the woods to try to run away again. He knew the woods pretty well.
By the time he was missing for two weeks, a search party 150 strong began combing the 64 square miles of the area where Richardson was last seen with helicopters, dogs, and searchers on foot and in vehicles.
Does somebody know where Richardson is?
“I think so,” Sumner said.
The initial investigation by county detectives determined that Richardson had helped look for two of the men who had wandered off into the woods. The remaining man with Richardson started coming down from his meth high at about 9 a.m. that morning. He slept until 5 p.m., awoke, and Richardson was gone. He hiked out of the area to a dirt road and hitchhiked back to Tusayan.
The two men who had become lost were rescued 15 miles south of the area after heading the wrong way on the Grand Canyon Railway tracks. None of the men reported Richardson missing. His family reported him missing.
“There’s evidence now that he returned to Moqui that night,” Sumner said, adding that he did not want to be more specific. He did say the case will soon be of focus to the cold case unit again, Sumner added.
Some people have been reinterviewed in the case. And an initial subject in the case, one of the people smoking meth with Richardson, is dead now, beaten to death. The man’s death appears to be a case of mistaken identity.
The remaining “people of interest in the case” are kept track of. Over the years, the sheriff’s office has received tips on where to search, and multiple land searches were conducted in the area where he disappeared.
“But it hasn’t panned out,” Sumner said.
During the initial investigation, detectives learned that Richardson was outgoing and popular, who had free rein of his family’s home in Tusayan. He had many friends and the ability to be a party of many different groups of people. A running theme was that Richardson had been abusing drugs and alcohol for the better part of a year before he went missing.
Sumner said that he’s hopeful anybody with information will call the cold case unit.
“There’re still people who are in this area who were there then, and they could have something that was important and don’t know it or haven’t told anyone yet,” Sumner said.
If anybody has information about this case, contact the sheriff’s office cold case division at 774-4523, or visit the Facebook page.
Larry Hendricks can be reached at 556-2262 or firstname.lastname@example.org.